Rick Ross Institute
The Ross Institute for the Study of Destructive Cults, Controversial Groups and Movements
From what I can see so far, this site has some very helpful information.
"RI's mission is to study destructive cults, controversial groups and movements and to provide a broad range of information and services easily accessible to the public for assistance and educational purposes."
This FAQ about cults is excellent. (1)
The Ayn Rand Cult? - Thoughts on Human Nature
The Sociology of the Ayn Rand Cult
by Murray N. Rothbard
I heard this accusation before, and I didn't want to believe it was anything substantial. However, after reading this essay by Murray Rothbard, I realized he is not throwing around the word "cult" casually. He comes across as knowledgeable about the issues, and his description of cult characteristics is convincing. It's not the same thing in every way, but the parallels with my own Worldwide Church of God cult experience are striking.
It seems that Rand deserves this criticism. Nevertheless, I will continue to give credit to Ayn Rand for her powerful ability to explain the values of "reason, liberty, individuality, and independence."(2) This is because her writings helped me break free from the mental locks of self-hatred and excessive self-sacrifice bred by our society's religious and philosophical dogmas.
Considering the popularity of her novels, I believe that Ayn Rand helped many people break free from the bonds of mystical authority and helped them see the importance of rational morality, thinking for themselves and the value of their own lives.
But apparently she caused some disruption and confusion as well. This is the irony. How can a person whose message revolved around individualism have created the situation that Rothbard describes?
For one thing, I believe her view of human nature is flawed, and I understood this even when I read Rand's novel "Atlas Shrugged" years ago. I loved the book anyway because of its insight, but her heroes are too perfect. In making her valid points, she demonstrated a lack of realism and empathy regarding how common it is for human beings to fail to measure up. Rand underestimated or failed to be honest about a part of reality - the weakness and irrationality of the human soul.
Part of her mistake was to believe that human beings are stronger and better than they really are, and so for real people there ends up being too much condemnation. We wouldn't need to strive for reason and moral standards if we were perfect and all-knowing. We need ideals to raise us up, and they need to be learned. And they are rational when they are practical and achievable - when they fit with the good side of our real nature.
One of Rand's great messages was self-esteem, but there are many false "standards" - from Rand or others - that are not rational, practical or achievable, that run counter to our nature, and only lead to self-hatred. The Church is wrong in condemning some things that are inherent in man's nature, some of which should possibly be considered good. But Rand makes the mistake of glorifying man's nature as sounder than it really is, and inadvertently condemning ordinary people because they can never meet some of those glorified and unreal standards.
Ironically, Rand's characters would say that there are no contradictions, just faulty premises. I wouldn't put it like that but I agree with the point. She emphasized reality but some of her own ideas contradict the reality of human nature. It is usually a mistake for people to overlook any contradictions that they perceive in a philosophy or religion. It is necessary to find the flaws and face up to them honestly. Think independently, take what is good and be skeptical of any authority. Every person you listen to is just human.